What does Afghanistan’s involvement in the BRI project mean for opportunistic China?
The People’s Republic of China has not been at the receiving end of good news coverage.
Recently, China expressed its fear of resumption of the terrorism in Afghanistan but the anxiousness was not driven for reasons of warlike conditions but instead because of the apprehension of its impact on the Belt and Road Project.
Beijing’s decision to involve Afghanistan in the BRI is based on a cornucopia of factors. China looked at Afghan as a land of great untapped potential and explored the latter’s mineral resources through mining and drilling contracts.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the foreign ministers of Afghan and China in May 2016 for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI was first floored by China in 2013 under which it plans to build economic and infrastructural connectivity by using the ‘Silk Road’.
As per the signed MoU, a Sino-Afghanistan Special Railway Transportation Project began in 2016 under which two trains per month were scheduled to carry electronic products, textiles, construction goods from China and marble, cashmere, wool, saffron etc., on the return trip from Afghanistan.
Such exchanges offered a venue for China to extend its cultural influences. Scholarships were offered to students in Afghanistan for their studies in China. The Confucius institute which was established by Beijing in 2008 at Kabul University now has a separate Chinese department.
Since 2017, China has been building its military base in the Afghanistan region. The government of China also pushed the Afghan government to take Chinese helicopters, navigation systems and drones, instead of Russian equipment. The Afghan government resisted the pressure for the fear of the Chinese system being used to spy on Afghanistan.
China follows a non-interference policy but just to fulfil its agenda of ensuring the safety of the BRI, the country now attempts to mediate the peace process by influencing the Taliban for its trade relationship.
For many, BRI seemed like a political agenda of the Chinese government dressed in the garb of capital and economy.
China has always been wary of terrorism in Afghanistan. PRC fears that an unsecure Afghanistan would pave the way for a safe harbor for the radical Uyghur Islamists and they can set up terrorists’ networks and cells there to advance their cause of separation. Frail security conditions in Afghanistan can jeopardize China’s project.
China believes that under the Taliban, Afghanistan had turned out to be an unstable force on China’s border, hosting alleged Uyghur organizations seeking an independent Xinjiang.
The Chinese government is worried about the spillover effects of terrorism, particularly in its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Moreover, the fear also emanates from Beijing’s increasing islamophobia.
However, this fear again nabbed China when recently the United States decided to finally pull back all its forces from Afghanistan. After the US’s announcement, the foreign minister of China Wang Yi held a meeting with the other Asian counterparts to get the reassurance that a safe ‘silk road’ should be created.
China’s reaction following the US announcement came across as China is concerned more about its BRI project rather than the state of affairs in Afghanistan. Beijing seems ready to forgo all diplomatic and military relations with states to ensure its BRI project is not stilted.
Wang Yi, in his talk with other five foreign ministers of Central Asian countries (C5), laid out an agenda to explore a new type of regional cooperation and the discussed and agreed agenda dominantly had strategies for Chinese interest portrayed as a mutual benefit project. China is basically seeking the support of all major players to secure its grip in Afghanistan.
China’s Communist Party President Xi Jinping is known for formulation debt-diplomacy base policies to gain dominance. Now that almost all nations are busy dealing with aftershocks of the coronavirus, China is taking advantage of the situation heavily pushing its flagship BRI project. Even though the BRI project is presented by China as a win-win prospect but it is greatly driven by nationalistic interests and motives.
The aim of the Chinese leaders has always been to exploit the countries with weak economies and convert China’s economic influence over them into political superintendence.